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It's that time of the week again and these are the stories that piqued my interest.

Google's Decelerating Clicks

comScore's February click data for Google shows a continuation of the previously reported slowdown in paid clicks.

According to comScore, paid clicks decreased another 3% in February. Google's stock price took a 3.1% hit on the news as investors asked the question, "What does it mean?"

That answer should come on April 17, when Google reports earnings.

In the meantime, one thing is for certain - a company that many thought was recession-proof doesn't seem to have the same level of bulletproof support it once did.

That can't be a positive sign for those who bought GOOG shares believing that they were on their way to $2,000.

Hong Kong tycoon Li raises personal Facebook investment above $100m

Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shin has invested another $40m in Facebook, adding on to his existing $60m stake that valued the company at the now-infamous $15b figure.

During an earnings call for his company Hutchison Whampoa Ltd., Ka-shin stated:

"Facebook is doing very well and we could have some synergy between the 3G services of Hutchison and Facebook, so the customers could use Facebook on mobile phones."

That alone seems like an awfully weak justification for his $100m investment in the company but the bigger questions is just how necessary an additional $40m in funding is for Facebook, which raised over $300m in 2007.

Clearly Facebook is the leading still-independent social network but at the end of the day, it's still just a social network and if the primary purpose for growing its war chest is to fund capital expenditures and operations, it looks like a shaky investment, especially given the company's continued monetization issues.

Are these widgets worth half a billion?

Fortune belatedly addresses Slide in light of the $510m valuation it received from investors Fidelity and T. Rowe Price earlier in the year.

Jessi Hempel and Michael V. Copeland look at the ways Slide and companies like it might be able to turn the popular widgets they make for social networks like Facebook and MySpace into booming businesses.

They even go so far as to question whether Slide "can cure what ails online ads."

A lot relies on the online advertising buzzword of the year - "engagement." While some of the logic behind the increasing focus on engagement makes incredible sense, it's still worth pointing out that nobody, including Microsoft, has really told anybody how engagement can be translated to the buzzword that far too many people have forgotten - ROI.

Until the Slides of the world can deliver engagement that drives tangible ROI, I suspect that a $50m bet on black in Vegas makes about as much sense as a $50m bet on a company like Slide.

In fact, given my skepticism of widgets like SuperPoke being able to provide anything of real value to brands, the odds of making money on the former might be higher than the odds of making money on the latter.

YouTube Offers Insight Into Performance

In an effort to ostensibly make itself of more value to advertisers and profit-driven groups, YouTube has rolled out YouTube Insight, "a free tool that enables anyone with a YouTube account to view detailed statistics about the videos that they upload to the site."

It enables video uploaders the ability to track the performance of their uploads and to put performance in context with detailed data, such as "how long it takes a video to achieve popularity and how a video behaves after popularity peaks."

It's a useful offering that will certainly be welcomed, but will insight be enough to drive an influx of advertiser dollars?

As Creative Strategies analyst Tim Bajarin notes, the most important consideration for advertisers will be whether or not YouTube can enable them to deliver relevant ads that are targeted to the right videos and the right people.

After all, there is still significant reluctance on the part of major brand advertisers to have ads for their brands displayed alongside questionable user-generated content.

YouTube Insight is a step in the right direction but until YouTube provides more insight as to how it's going to solve the problems related to video-based ad targeting with user-generated content, it likely still has a long way to go before it can make a contribution to Google's bottom line.

Viacom Offers 'South Park' Episodes for Free on Web

In another sign that Big Media is willing to adapt and meet consumer demands, albeit on their own timeframes, it was announced this week that South Park Studios, a joint venture between Viacom's Comedy Central and the creators of Southpark, are offering Southpark fans the ability to watch full-length streaming episodes from all 12 Southpark seasons online.

MTV Networks president Doug Herzog commented that despite the fact that revenues from the online venture would be "smaller" than revenues generated from cable distribution, "there's a business there, although clearly it's in its infancy."

While Viacom's move may come as a surprise to those who blindly believe that Big Media is dying, those who are familiar with Viacom probably aren't surprised given the company's track record in leveraging the internet and new media to its benefit.

Social networks need to be useful to make money

Add one to the "Duh" files. Anupreeta Das at Reuters observes that "Virtual beer and vampires may no longer be enough to keep members of social networks like Facebook and News Corp's MySpace riveted to their computers."

As data showing social network fatigue indicates that social networking has the "mature stage of the growth curve" as noted by comScore's Andrew Lipsman, it's becoming obvious that to become self-sustaining, long-term businesses, social networks (and the widget companies that rely on them) will have to add substance.

Whether that can be done is a big "if." If it can't, Charles Moldow, a venture capitalist at Foundation Capital, has some bad news - investors "are going to lose of lot of money."

Who could have seen that coming?

Latin America's ECommerce Leader

With much of the focus in the United States and Europe on the internet opportunities to be found in the enticing Asian markets, Forbes points out that a smaller, but still formidable 500m person market - Latin America - has significant opportunity of its own.

With nearly 10% of the world's internet population and one of the fastest growth rates in penetration, Latin America "is developing its own collection of Internet stars."

MercadoLibre has an interesting story. Now the dominant Latin American online marketplace, it had to survive a number of trials and tribulations that threatened its survival.

Forbes' article provides an interesting case study relevant to my recent post on going global and demonstrates that there not only is there opportunity to be found everywhere in the world today, but sometimes it's in the places that don't (yet) have stations where the hype train makes stops.

Drama 2.0

Published 28 March, 2008 by Drama 2.0

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